Friday, December 24, 2010

A Blog Header Retrospective

I've had a lot of fun over the years creating new blog headers in Photoshop. I haven't done a great job documenting where I found each of the Photoshop brushes that I've used, and I've barely documented the fonts at all. I'm sorry. If I used something of yours and didn't credit you, let me know. I take no credit for any of the brushes or fonts, only the photos of my kid and his toys.

JUNE 2008, By Beth of Be Design.


JULY 2008, I used Mythology Vol. I by Centric Studios, and Crack Brushes II by hawksmont, both found on brusheezy.com.


AUGUST 2008, ED01 brush set by KaliJean on PSBrushes.net


SEPTEMBER 2008, v. 1, Dumpster Brushes by Dubtastic Design Labs and Physiology Brushes by Centric Studios, both of which I found on Brusheezy.com. "Astigma" font by Mike Doughty at Mike's Sketchpad.


SEPTEMBER 2008, v. 2, A still from the video for Justin Roberts' "Willy Was a Whale."


SEPTEMBER 2008, v. 3, ED02 brush set by KaliJean on PSBrushes.net


SEPTEMBER 2008, v. 4, I'm sorry I can't attribute the photos better. I think I got them off of a stock photo site, but I can't remember. It was inspired by "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes. Here is the blog post that references it.


OCTOBER 2008, Keren's Abstract Brushes Vol. 1, and her Flies as well


NOVEMBER 2008, I lost the attribution info on this one. I still have the zip file, and the brush is called 07_hires_tree_brushes.


DECEMBER 2008, I think this one cam from flina


JANUARY 2009, Cafeina brushes by: archnophobia; Robots and Wires brushes by: Dex Multimedia


APRIL 2009


JUNE 2009


JULY 2009


SEPTEMBER 2009, Frame Brushes by alteredteddybear


NOVEMBER 2009, Splatter Brushes by FlowGraphic.com


JANUARY 2010, Ultimate Brush Pack by axeraider70


MAY 2010, DJ Brushes from brushforphotoshop.com


NOVEMBER 2010


DECEMBER 2010, Street Soul font by Endie

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Name to Strike Fear in the Hearts of Evildoers

On December 8, I broke my little finger. The urgent care clinic took three x-rays, taped my pinky to my ring finger, and advised me to see an orthopedic specialist the following week. On December 13, the orthopedic specialist repositioned the finger, splinted it, took 3 more x-rays in the process, and told me to come back in a week to verify that it hadn't moved. On December 19, I became convinced that I had pneumonia (again), and returned to the urgent care clinic, where they gave me two chest x-rays and confirmed my suspicions. Today, I returned to the orthopedic specialist, who took three more x-rays of my hand, was unsatisfied because of an obstructed view, and took two more.

So that's thirteen x-rays in twelve days. When I mutate into a superhero from all of the radiation, I shall call myself Iron Lung.

I'm not sure how this works. Does bronchitis left untreated become pneumonia? Would you Google that for me? Or are pneumonia and bronchitis separate and unrelated conditions? I suspected a couple of weeks ago that I might be developing either bronchitis or pneumonia. I had a little pain in the right side of my chest, but nothing terribly alarming. I remember telling my Primary Care Physician once that I had heard that untreated bronchitis will not resolve on its own, and he told me that wasn't true, that it may or may not. So I thought this time I'd wait and see what happens. I ran a couple of 5Ks in the meantime, which, I reasoned, I'd never be able to do with a serious respiratory condition. The pain improved, in retrospect largely because of the Vicodin I was taking for the broken finger, so I thought I was on the mend. When I stopped taking the Vicodin, the chest pain returned, along with an alarming spot of blood, prompting me to seek, at long last, medical attention.

The problem with having a wonky pair of lungs is, you never know when it's regular wonky or serious wonky. Even with pneumonia confirmed by chest x-rays, I don't feel that much different than I do on any given Monday evening.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Give You: The Finger

I broke the little finger on my left hand today, and I'm just giddy about it. It makes me inordinately happy. I know; it makes no sense. It's the second broken bone of my life. I have 2 older brothers who were both Emergency Room regulars, but it took me until I was in my 30's to break my first bone, and that was a tiny little bone in my right wrist that I broke falling down on my bike. This doubles my total count, which is a stupid, macho thing to be happy about, but I just am. There, I said it.

Also, I'm just kind of amazed at the low pain level, which is another stupid, macho thing to be proud of, but there it is. I was riding my scooter, chasing after the boy on his bike on the way back home from getting the mail. I hit a chasm in the sidewalk and watched myself fall in slow motion, almost sure I could recover right up until the moment my glasses went flying and I felt skin on my left hand and knee come off. I stood up, picked up the strewn envelopes, and noticed that the little finger on my left hand was pointing upward at an alarmingly unnatural angle.

I put my glasses back on and thought, "I dislocated my finger. I should straighten it out before it starts to hurt." So I pulled it out and down. It looked better, but was still pointing up and to the left a bit, so I tried again. It still wasn't straight, so I thought, "I should go see a doctor to straighten it out before I make it worse."

Thumper must have heard me fall. He turned back, and seeing me lying in the gutter, yelled, "Daddy!" I told him I was OK, but I had a boo boo. He asked me if I was going to see a dentist. I told him I'd go see a doctor. He said, "OK. We'll eat dinner first."

So we went home, and I called Aerie, who had been planning on working late but rushed home so that I could go to the doctor without bringing the boy along with me. Thumper asked me if my boo boo was all better; I said it was not. He suggested that Gummi worms might make it feel better.

I took 2 Naproxen and made the boy dinner while I waited for Aerie to get home. I began to believe it might be broken, since it appeared to bend at a spot that was not a joint. But it didn't hurt enough to be broken.

So I went to the Urgent Care clinic, and the receptionist filled out my paperwork for me since I'm left-handed. The doctor came in and said, "Let me guess: what did you punch?" I told him my story, and he told me the x-ray tech would be in to see me in a minute. I had 3 x-rays taken, which only hurt a little when the x-ray tech and his trainee wanted a shot from the side, with my hand resting on the injured finger. I asked the tech if it was broken, and he said, "Only the doctor can diagnose. Do you want to see it?" This is the shot I looked at:



Not seeing the straight line across the bone that I expected to see, I said, "Oh, I guess I just dislocated it after all." The tech said, "Only the doctor can diagnose; he'll be in in a minute."

I sat in the exam room for a few minutes until the doctor knocked and entered, declaring, "You broke the crap out of it!" He pointed at the x-ray and said, "It's a mess. You broke it here, and here, and here..." He wrapped it up to the 4th finger and gave me a Vicodin prescription "So you won't be cursing my name at midnight tonight" and told me to see an orthopedic hand specialist in a week or so.

Later, the x-ray tech walked me out to unlock the door since I'd stayed past closing time. I said, "So you must've had a laugh when I said I'd only dislocated it." He said, "Yeah, I told the doctor what you said. We all thought it was pretty funny. I can't say anything, though."

So there you go. I busted my finger in multiple places, and it didn't really hurt much. I'm a man, baby! Yeah!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Warrior Dash




I signed up for Longhorn Run last May to motivate myself to work out harder, thinking I had little chance of actually completing it, or at least completing it without walking some part of the course. I surprised myself by succeeding, and of course, I immediately stopped working out and lost most of my fitness and endurance.

So I signed up for Warrior Dash to motivate myself to work out harder. I seriously underestimated how tough it would be, though. I thought, "It's just a 5K; I've already done a 10K. How hard could it be?" and I didn't train nearly as hard for this one as I did for the Longhorn Run.

Here I am approaching the finish, trying to look like I still have some spring in my step, but I was seriously dragging:



The difference was the terrain and the obstacles. Somehow I'd convinced myself that there were only 3 or 4 obstacles, and that they were mostly for entertainment value, since the event seems largely about the silly costumes many participants wear and the beer and turkey legs to be had on the other side of the finish line. It turns out that some of those obstacles, like high-stepping through a field of tires and climbing a pyramid of hay bales and scaling cargo nets, were downright tough. There weren't any long hills, but there were lots of little ones, as well as some slick, steep creek beds to navigate.

I trained mostly by running on the treadmill, with some weights thrown in here and there and an occasional outdoor run. My running strategy has been to find a nice, steady, sustainable pace and focus on my breathing. On this course, though, with all of the up-and-down, and the broken ground, and the 11 obstacles interspersed throughout, I couldn't find my pace. I couldn't steady my breathing. I was winded all the way and did much more walking than I anticipated.

My oldest brother ran the course with me. He said that he's never been much of a runner, preferring biking and softball. When I talked about running a 35-minute 5K, he acted like I was nuts if I thought he was going to be able to keep up with a pace like that. But throughout the course, he was well ahead of me, and while he got winded here and there, I think most of the time he spent walking was for my benefit. Here he is waiting for me to finish the third-to-last obstacle:



In the end, I wasn't as proud of my performance (though at the time I'm writing this, official results have not yet been released) as I was after the Longhorn Run. But I feel more motivated moving forward than I did then. Both of my brothers, several friends, and Aerie are all talking about running another one in the Dallas area in April, and there is no doubt in my mind that I'm going to have to step up my training significantly over the next 5 months if I'm going to be proud of myself when I stagger up out of the mud the next time.



The other great thing about Warrior Dash was the after party. Thumper had a blast. He and his cousin danced their butts off and charmed all of the ladies within a 50-foot radius. They did the Cupid Shuffle:



And the Macarena:



And, uh, whatever this is:



And with everyone else showing off their bodies:



He just couldn't resist showing off a little himself:



I'm not sure what was up with the shoes, though:

Bro-Bonding

I should be blogging about Warrior Dash, a 3.2-mile obstacle course I ran today with my oldest brother. My older brother was going to run with us, too, but at the time we registered, a huge uncertainty in his family's life prevented him from committing, and so, the uncertainty resolved, he was only able to stand at the finish line and cheer us on. It was a fabulous time, and I'll tell the thrilling tale soon, but what I wanted to say instead was that I'm glad for my family, and glad for brothers who enjoy each others' company, and good conversation, and periodically forging anew those old connections that we take for granted and getting to know anew people we think we know, though it's been so long since we've seen or really talked to them. I love my family, despite and because of all its foibles. I'm getting all sentimental and sappy, so I'm going to sing some Tim Michin. I know, I already posted this song; I just really like it. And it says something about family that I really want to be true for Thumper, no matter how nutty his relatives may be:

"And you, my baby girl,
My jet-lagged infant daughter,
You'll be handed 'round the room
Like a puppy at a primary school,
And you won't understand,
But you will learn some day
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people
Who'll make you feel safe in this world,
My sweet blue-eyed girl.

And if, my baby girl,
When you're twenty-one or thirty-one
And Christmas comes around,
And you find yourself 9000 miles from home,
You’ll know whatever comes,
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum
Will be waiting for you in the sun.
Whenever you come,
Your brothers and sisters,
Your aunts and your uncles,
Your grandparents, cousins,
And me and your mum.
Will be waiting for you in the sun,
Drinking white wine in the sun."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I Have a Stop Sign in My Car

"I was a little mad because you took the water away."

"Yeah, I was a little mad, too, because you kept spitting the water out."

"Yeah."

"I keep telling you not to spit the water out, but you keep doing it. Do you have any ideas on how I can get you to stop?"

"Yeah. You should have a stop sign in the car. Then you could show it and say, 'Stop!' when I spit the water out."

"And then you'd stop?"

"Yeah."

"That's a good idea. Should we make a stop sign when we get home?"

"Yeah."

"OK."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mostly Unstructured

What I really should be blogging about is the thing that's on my mind most, which is all of the guilt and frustration I've been going through lately and the sneaking suspicion that I'm not that good at this job and it's a pretty good thing that we've only got one kid or I might end up either divorced or in jail.

But gah, who has the energy for that kind of self-loathing on a Sunday night?

So the other thing I've been thinking about is structure. Since the boy was a wee lad of less than two years, we've occasionally attempted library story time. The first one we went to was a moderate success, until I realized that it was intended for kids under 1, and he was stomping around among the crawlers like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. He enjoyed himself and participated in the activities, but, despite another dad's reassurance that the age ranges listed for the several story times were merely suggestions, I felt socially awkward and we didn't return to that age group's story time again.

Instead, we tried his own age group's story time, and it was, each and every time, a complete failure. He refused to participate. When everyone stood to sing and gesture and pantomime along to the songs ("down came the rain and washed the spider out!") he would sit in my lap, sucking his thumb and eying everyone else suspiciously. When everyone else sat still while Ms. Jane read, he would stand up and wander and talk to me as loudly as a teenager with headphones on ("I WANT MY SNACK, DADDY!"). The more we went, the shorter his attention span was ("I WANT TO GO PLAY PUZZLES, DADDY!")

So we kind of gave up on structured group participation activities for awhile, until we decided to try a gymnastics class at the YMCA. It was titled something completely non-descriptive, like "Buddy and Me" or something like that, and I signed up thinking it would be a mild introduction to structured group activities, with instructors at least suggesting specific activities for the various pieces of equipment.

Instead, it was 45 minutes a week of free play time in the gymnastics room, with no instructor participation except reminding us that the "TumblTrak" was a one-way street and the high balance beams were off-limits. Otherwise, it was Daddy and Thumper playing, much like we do any other day, except on gymnastics equipment instead of playground equipment. It was fun, but by week six, he was more interested in exploring the thermostat and electrical outlets than he was in playing on the equipment again.

In the meantime, my mother and several of the members of the moms' groups expressed the opinion that a Mother's Day Out program was an essential step in his preparation for a classroom setting someday. I felt like paying someone to watch him while I did something else was sort of like cheating, and pretty much what we'd tried to avoid by having me stay home with him full-time in the first place, but I also didn't want to deny him an advantage that would ultimately help him get ready for school. So I priced the YMCA's Mother's Day Out program, was a little shocked, and immediately tabled the idea for reconsideration at a later date.

So time went on, he turned three, he was potty-trained and eligible for the next level of YMCA classes, and I signed up for gymnastics again. This one was "Intro to Tumbling" or "Toddler Tumbling" or something like that, and definitely had instructors and group activities, and the whole thing. I was certain it would be a complete disaster.

And it wasn't! At his first class, every other kid sat in a circle listening to the teacher and participating in a toddler stretching routine ("Pretend your hands are a butterfly. Now land your butterfly on your toes; now fly your butterfly way up in the sky!"), Thumper ran 'round and 'round the outside of the circle. The teacher suggested he sit down and join them; he just kept right on running.

But after a few minutes, he did sit down. He did participate. He followed instructions. He joined in the group activities. I was stunned. I was proud. And I realized: one of the keys to his success in group activities is peer pressure. With other kids staring at him like he's a nut, he starts to reel in his behavior a bit. The other key: I was not allowed in the room with him. On the last of the six weekly classes, the instructors declared that it was "Parents' Day" and we were allowed to sit in the room, and lo and behold, it was utter chaos. Not only my kid, but almost every other kid in the room, went nuts. If I'd been able to watch Library Story Time through a window, he probably would have been just fine.

So the kid who wouldn't participate in group activities was finally participating. The kid who wouldn't jump off of anything more than an inch high if he weren't holding my hands was suddenly jumping and tumbling and rolling and balancing and hanging and swinging. When the six-week program was over, I asked him if he wanted to sign up again, and he said no. The only other class for his age group was "Tap Dance and Ballet," and when I asked him if he wanted to do that, he said, "No, that's just for girls." I'm not sure where the kid who loves to dance and who has the dad in the alternative gender role gets the idea that something is "just for girls," but there you go. Cultural inculcation starts early, I guess.

With structure a success, but with no structure on the near horizon, I thought again about pre-school. Aerie took Thumper to a "Fall Fest" with pony rides that turned out to be a marketing ploy by a local pre-school. She gave them my phone number on Saturday, and by 9 a.m. on Monday, the owner called me. I had no doubt it would be more expensive than the Y, but I also figured with that kind of response time, he was probably not going to leave me alone, so I took him up on his offer for a tour that afternoon.

It was impressive. The teachers seemed patient and kind, and the owner was too. Thumper started out clinging to me like a baby chimp. I wasn't sure why he was so anxious, but after awhile, when he said, "You said school when I'm five!" it became clear that when I told him we were going to "tour a school," he thought I was going to take him there and leave him. The owner captured his interest with a collection of Melissa & Doug puzzles and then let him wander into each of the different classrooms while we watched and talked in the hall. By the end, Thumper didn't want to leave.

It was state-of-the-art, with a security system that uses two keypads and a thumbprint scanner. When he pointed out some kind of interactive touch-screen wall projector and proudly declared that "we're the only school in the state of Texas that has one," I was even more certain the program would be out of our price range. And I was right. It was twice the cost of the YMCA Mother's Day Out.

So there you go: a whole bunch of words to say, "We tried structure, we liked it, and we're not doing it anymore."

The End.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Now I Should Teach Him to Slide Across the Hood Before Getting in His Carseat


I'm going to write more about our experiments in structured activities, but I have a deadline to meet tonight first. Gymnastics was a success, though. The kid who wouldn't jump off the side of the pool without holding my hands is now doing leaping rolls off the couch.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blog

One post in nearly three months, and I'm wondering if I'm still a blogger. When I think about blogging, I don't have much more to say than what I've already said, except for anecdotes about Thumper that I've already put on Facebook in abbreviated form. When I think I might have something to say, I put it off because I have copy writing deadlines, or database deadlines, or I'm just tired and would rather stare at ridiculous episodes of Black Adder on Netflix for Wii.

Part of it is that I think the novelty and excitement I felt at becoming a parent and at being a stay-at-home dad has worn off. It's not that novel anymore. I have a routine; I feel more confident than I used to. I have friends; Thumper has friends; things are progressing, and there's not that much new. I'm used to being a SAHD; I'm used to being an usher; I'm used to being a copywriter. Telling stories about each of those things seems a little redundant now. The biggest challenge I have now, the one that occupies my mind most and is most ripe for exploration via blog post is my struggle dealing with the aggravation that comes from living with a three-year-old who constantly pushes the boundaries, constantly tests my patience, constantly challenges me not to yell. But writing about my regular failures to meet those challenges isn't exactly inspiring.

But one of the moms from one of my playgroups invited me to follow her blog, one of the moms that I admire because of her energy and positive attitude, despite the fact that she has 3X the kids (plus 2 dogs, a cat, and a snake) and a much fuller schedule than I do. It's one of the things I appreciate about my 3 different play groups: they surround me with parents who seem to be better at it than I am, inspiring me to try to be better at it myself. They're involved; they do crafts; and they don't yell (at least when I'm around). And reading her blog, I remembered that part of blogging is reminding myself of the good things, articulating the things that I love in fuller detail than a picture and a few words on Facebook allows.

Halloween and the 3 days preceding it were a blast, by the way. And did I mention, we ran into Kat Nash at Which Wich?

So, I don't know. I guess I'm still a blogger. But, gah, who has the time? I'm going to go play Bejeweled Blitz now...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stuff and Things

Wow, it's been a month since I posted, and I left a vague reference to a curse word up as my lead title all this time. For shame.

Things are tough over here, but not absolutely horrible. I've not been to the gym, until today, for nearly a month. I've also been eating crap and drinking excessively. Coincidentally, I've gained 10 pounds. Yay!

Speaking of going to the gym today, it was almost an hour and a half excursion. I began to feel like Odysseus attempting to return home. The surprising rainfall amounts from (I think; I'm too lazy to look it up and confirm) Tropical Storm Hermine as she moved up from the Gulf of Mexico and across Central Texas flooded several roads, leaving our local YMCA completely inaccessible. We approached from one direction; the road was blocked. We took the long way 'round to approach it from the other direction; the road was blocked. So we chucked it in and went to the other not-so-local Y. I hope the building didn't get flooded; the boy starts a gymnastics class there next week.

A month off, and by the way, I could barely run for 10 minutes, let alone a full hour. I best get my act together if I'm going to run in Warrior Dash in November.

So yeah, I'm a fat lazy bastard. I'm way behind on a copywriting project. Like waaaayyyyyy behind. My wife is working most of the time and still under coal-to-diamond pressure to solve unsolvable problems for her family, with the people she's trying to help not always being so nice to her. I'm hosting play dates here tomorrow and Friday, and I haven't finished cleaning my house.

Hmm. What else? Oh yeah, I got peed on by one cat shoving him into a cat carrier this morning and scratched by the other. One has a chronic UTI problem that's getting beyond old and more than expensive. The other is apparently allergic to his own teeth and has a rare viral infection that gives him the permanent runs. I spent $375 to maybe, or maybe not, find solutions to these problems. I think I'll do the Happy Happy Joy Joy dance.

Oh yeah, and then, what with my wife working 14-hour days and burning out her brain cells and feeling guilty about it, and then burning out her brain cells again the next day and feeling guilty about it, we decided to just go ahead and close the door on the second child thing and cut out the stress of the whole "Now? Later? How much later, 'cause we ain't getting younger? Can we afford it? How much bodily damage will a second pregnancy do?" conundrum. Hasn't seemed to reduce the stress much, but it has managed to make me pretty sad. Maybe adoption? Probably not. Doesn't feel like the right thing to me. But little babies sure is cute...

And so then bitching about it makes me feel like I should say: I know we're blessed. The boy is a marvel, a wonder, a joy. He held court at the vet's office today, cracking up staff and customers alike. But also: even that, I mean, Lord, he just. Never. Stops. Talking. I can't think straight talking to the vet about this med for that cat, and that med for that cat, and how often and how much because he's chattering non-stop and asking questions peppered with "Why?" every 10 or so words and climbing on the stool when I told him not to because he'll tip it over and hurt himself and then he almost tips it over and I can just see the chipped teeth and split chin and I snap at him and the vet looks all uncomfortable and I'm feeling guilty again.

Wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Blessed. Wonderful. Lucky. And we are. But man. So much for not complaining.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

OMFG

I thought I didn't want to let this space become a place where I complain about my life, but I just don't know how to process all of this. I thought, when we got married, the "I'll always love you, no matter what" part would get us through anything, and I guess it has, and it will, but it isn't making it easier. There is no one I can talk to about all of the stress that we, our little family unit, is under right now, and I should be worried about who will see this and what I'll do if the wrong people see it and take it badly, but...

FFFUUU...!!!

No, that didn't really help.

And the Rage Thread, by the way, is a meme I wouldn't know anything about if my hip, just-graduated-from-high-school nephew didn't reference it on Facebook all the time. Tip o' the hat to ya, Penguin Man.

What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah. At the exact moment that the pressure exerted on my wife in her professional life is increasing, for a variety of reasons, and the staff that she has available to her to help her deal with that pressure is decreasing, for a variety of reasons, the demands placed upon her by her extended family are also increasing. She is the go-to chick when it comes to getting problems solved, only this time, the problems are starting to look pretty damn near unsolvable. Yet solve them she must, while navigating the minefield of family history and catering to the particular needs and sensitivities of each individual party, and especially one particularly needy and sensitive party, all while still working 12 hours a day and not letting her son, or her husband, feel the burden of her stress or her absence.

And I'm supposed to help her. What I want to do to help her is to unleash the venom of 18 years of suppressed anger on certain parties, and especially one party in particular, but I know that it wouldn't really help, and I know that Aerie would definitely not appreciate it, so I keep on suppressing it. Come to think of it, she probably isn't going to appreciate this post, either, but...

FFFUUU...!!!

She's had enough. More than enough. And I've had enough. And more keeps coming, with no end in sight.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Three

Friends and family gathered today to celebrate Thumper's third birthday. It's wonderful to have so many people who will come to our home and participate in these moments with us, and to see conversations bloom and mutate and migrate from room to room. To watch kids and cousins playing together. To see how things have changed and how things have stayed the same.

While he's not quite up to J-H's level, here's Thumper thoroughly enjoying his new guitar and improvising a couple of songs for your listening pleasure:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Struggling, in a Strictly First World Sort of Way

My blog output has been hampered of late partly due to my reluctance to use this space to complain about my pretty-all-right life. I mean, we're not suffering through starvation or disease. Our neighborhood is not torn apart by warfare or even criminal activity. We're all doing very well, relatively speaking. But still, I feel like I'm struggling, and I haven't wanted to say so. I asked for this job, this stay-at-home dad job, and I got it, and it's made me very happy, so complaining about the difficulties seems, well, a little whiny.

But.

I'm having a hard time here. I yell at my kid daily. My levels of frustration, irritation, annoyance, and outright anger often catch me by surprise and fill me with guilt. I think I want another child, but I'm frequently pretty sure I can barely handle the child I have, so another one might just unravel me completely.

Aerie and I like to point out which of Thumper's phrases, sayings, and gestures originate with whom. "Oopsie, doodle bugs" is definitely hers. "You're getting on my nerves," unfortunately, is definitely mine. I try to obviate my frustration by blogging and Facebooking all of the fun things, the adorable moments and interactions, and to remember to see him as other people do, as a smart, charming, sociable kid who's pretty much funny as hell.

Today, for instance, when we were leaving the YMCA, a staff member I'd never seen before, without so much as a glance at me, gave Thumper high five and said, "See you later, Rock Star!" People love this kid. He's a charmer. Often, his charm is lost on me, though.

And don't get me started on the whole potty training saga. It's mostly going pretty well, but good God, it's exhausting. How can I be so full of pride when he craps on the toilet and so mortified when he pees on the floor at the mall, all in the same day?

And I'm sure my struggles are all perfectly normal. Thumper's darn-near three and is supposed to be pushing and testing every limit that's set for him. He screams; he flops; he throws things and hits people, mostly me. I nag him all day long: "Don't touch that. Don't put that in your mouth. Be nice. Don't hit. Don't throw that. Ask nicely. Stop kicking me. Say thank you. Sit up and eat your lunch, please. Sit up. Sit up. One more bite. Get in your seat, please. Come on. Come on. Come on. Come on! Come on! Come here right now!"

When I tell him over and over again to leave the back door alone and don't slam it, and then he slams his finger it, and then does it again the next day, when he cries I practically yell "I told you so!" at him. I just don't feel like I'm being the kind, patient, and loving father that I should be, especially since this is exactly what I signed up for.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More Awkwardness

I'm not sure how to write about this now. I think I've been looking at things from the wrong direction. I've thought of play groups as something good for Thumper, something that helps him learn how to interact with other people, and maybe get some potty training motivation from seeing other kids pause the action while they go pee. I have also thought of it as something good for me, as ideas for destinations and activities when I run out, as pleasant conversation. I had several expectations for the dads' group when I first joined, with almost none of them actually approaching reality. I thought I would find ideas for ways to supplement Aerie's income; I did not. I thought I would find conversations and message board posts about approaches to solving difficulties I was having. But dads don't talk much. They sit in companionable silence. They talk about possible solutions to inexplicable noises coming from rear brake drums. And fishing. And sports. And they tell dirty jokes.

Don't get me wrong; there are a few great guys in the dads group whose company I enjoy and whose parenting I admire. I've had pleasant times and even great times over the past few years. But I haven't made fast friends, and I haven't found the regular, core group of kids that Thumper can play with again and again, learning how to navigate personality conflicts when everyone's not on their best behavior because they've just met. One obstacle is the large size of the group and the large size of the geographical area over which they're spread. The bigger obstacle is the apathy the dads have towards getting their kids together to play.

So I joined the couple of moms' groups thinking I'd have better luck finding friends for Thumper, but not really expecting to find friends for me. I have never minded being the only man on the playground. Moms have always been surprisingly friendly and accepting of me, especially with Thumper's outgoing nature. But I didn't anticipate, when I joined the moms' groups, the frequency of the in-home play date versus the playground/pool/sprinkler park play date. I tried twice to host in-home play dates for the dads' group. When Thumper was almost 6 months old, I hosted. I was apparently a little nervous. It went well, but it didn't turn into a relationship, either for me or for Thumper, and it would be another 2 years before I hosted another. Again, it attracted only one dad and one kid. The kids had fun; I had fun. But I haven't seen the dad, or the kid, since, at playgrounds or elsewhere.

Since joining the two moms' groups, though, we've been to 3 in-home play dates, a birthday party, and a baby shower, on top of many playground, pool, and sprinkler park dates. That's five times in a couple of months that we've gone to other people's homes, along with sometimes large and sometimes small groups of other kids and parents. Thumper loves these play date so much that he has not yet managed to leave one without having a screaming, hysterical fit. It is a cruel injustice that so much fun ever has to end.

For me, though, the in-home play dates add another layer of social awkwardness. Not just with the unselfconscious breastfeeding, but with all sorts of aspects that don't generally come up at the playground. I want to make sure my kid doesn't make a mess and shares and has good manners and covers when he coughs and doesn't club any babies or big-screen TVs with a baseball bat, lest my male parenting style be judged inferior. I want to make sure I participate in food prep or cleanup to the degree that's appropriate, not too much to be overbearing or annoying but not too little, either.

And conversation, especially at the baby shower, just takes turns that seem to leave me behind. When one mom asks the showeree how much weight she's gained, and the showeree says, "Oh sure, bring that up in front of everybody..." I feel like maybe I'm overhearing something I shouldn't, or that I'm the particular everybody it shouldn't have been brought up in front of. When birth stories were shared, with so many hours spent to reach so many centimeters dilation, I just never felt the natural opening in the conversation to talk about Thumper's birth, and transverse breach and c-section. It felt like I'd be intruding.

And then Bingo was played, and I was invited, and I played. I misheard the prize, though, thinking that the winner would watch the showeree's 3 1/2-year-old some day soon so that she could go out and watch the latest Twilight movie in peace by herself before the baby comes. I won at Bingo, tying with another of the moms, and it was explained that the prize was two other moms watching the showeree's and the winners' kids so that we could all go enjoy Edward and Jacob together. It suddenly seemed too much like a date to me, and I mumbled something about what I thought the prize was and wandered away. At the end of the shower, one of the moms who'd offered to do the kid watching reminded the other winner of Bingo that she was obligated to go see the movie whenever the showeree wanted, but she never looked my way, and I felt kind of stupid. And kind of relieved.

And when people began to leave, and the showeree was hugged, I filled one arm with my big bowl of fruit salad and the other with my big toddler so that I wouldn't wonder if I was supposed to hug too, or not. But still, it seemed like the hug could've happened, if I'd tried, but I didn't, and I wondered if she felt snubbed, or felt like I was oddly reserved, or if the hug, if I'd attempted it, would've been even more awkward, especially since I'd filled my arms with cargo.

And then, when I got home, I saw a Facebook Status Update that made it clear that one of the breastfeeding moms had found my blog, and I remembered that, though I'd originally intended to keep my blog anonymous and separate from my Facebook, I'd had second thoughts. I couldn't recall if I'd actually added irodius.com as my webpage in my Facebook info, or if I'd just thought about adding it. Turns out I had actually added it. And my imaginary online life collided with my real life.

It didn't sound like she was offended, though maybe her husband was. Hard to tell. But what struck me from what she said about the whole thing was: I am probably making up all of this awkwardness all by myself. If I feel like I'm standing on the outside, unincluded, it's probably because I'm standing on the outside, not participating. I have been very careful not to offend, not to overstep my bounds, whatever those bounds might be to whoever might be keeping score. And who knows how my own reserve is interpreted by these perfectly nice people who've invited me into their homes.

I wonder how old I'll be when I finally stop acting like that awkward teenage boy who was pretty sure that everyone else was working with a script he never got?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It Doesn't Really Feel Like Emasculation, But It Is Kind of Odd

I'm spending part of my evening tonight making a big bowl of fruit salad to take to the first of two baby showers that I'll be attending over the next three days. I haven't been to a baby shower ever in 38 years, but after joining two moms' play groups, BAM! Two in a row. For the first, the entire play group was invited, and I thought, "Oh, they don't really mean me. That would just be awkward." But then I was explicitly, specifically invited and encouraged to attend.

I even tossed the apple chunks in lemon juice to prevent browning.

I guess the second shower doesn't really count, because it's for BFF and his girlfriend, and it's being billed more as a celebration than a shower, with gifts not necessary, but still. It's a shower. My second in three days.

There are clear differences in how the moms' groups and the dads' groups operate. For instance, the moms show up in numbers, and the dads show up in ones or twos. The moms host play dates in their homes, and the dads stick to the playgrounds. The dads venture all over two counties, and the moms return to the neighborhood playgrounds again and again.

The biggest difference, though, and perhaps the most disconcerting? In a couple of years of dads' group play dates, breastfeeding has never come up. Not once has a bare breast suddenly appeared in the middle of a conversation. With the moms, it's happening with somewhat alarming frequency. I like to think of myself as a hip, modern man with no philosophical objections to breastfeeding in public, and I like to believe that there's nothing erotic about the use of the breast for the sustenance of children, but somehow, when I'm having a pleasant conversation with a woman and she suddenly pulls her top down, it's a little distracting. I think I'm playing it off okay, but it sends my brain into a little bit of a spin. Should I just not look at her, pretend to be fascinated by what Thumper's doing over there on the other side of the room, even though she's still talking, and talking to me? If I don't look, does that make it even more obvious that I'm discombobulated? Can I continue to ignore that one voice in the back of my head that's yelling, "It's a boob! It's bare! Look at it!" and still hold eye contact?

And am I glad, or maybe just a little bummed out, that I'm so non-threatening that these moms seem to give not a second thought to whipping it out in front of me?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wow, That Was Two Years Ago?

I was thinking my whole Self-Improvement Project Thingy was last year, and I was thinking it was time to do an update about how I've done. Turns out it was two years ago, and last year I already did a progress report. I must be getting old, because the time, it is a-flyin'.

So anyway. As of today, I'm at 243 pounds, which is 19 pounds less than this time last year. As I mentioned last year, virtually all of that progress was while sticking to the tenets of Weight Watchers, but I friggin' hate sticking to the tenets of Weight Watchers. It's tedious, and takes all of the joy out of every single meal you'll ever eat for the rest of your life. I was, at my best, down to 232 pounds, but, well, I gained some back. I'm not too down on myself right now, because I think I may be about the best I've been as far as health and strength and endurance, physically. I mean, this is the year that I ran a 10K, and I'm pretty proud of that. I may never be my ideal weight, but I'm still exercising, and that's a good thing. My downfall is caloric intake. I like to eat, and I like to drink. I haven't smoked cigarettes in 4 years now, and it's been even longer since I might possibly have consumed whatever illicit drugs that I may or may not have done at some unspecified point in my life. My greatest vices are eating and drinking, and while I know that needs to change, right now I'm kind of OK with it.

So if I have goals for change for the next year or so, they would mostly be gaining control of my emotional reactions to Thumper and his more or less constant testing of his limits and mine. I'm not always the calm and reasonable parent I'd like to be. I may never be, but I need to work harder at not losing my shit on a nearly daily basis. He's pretty damn cute, but he's also a test of my patience and kindness and selflessness, and I fail that test far more often than I'd care to admit.

So, as DJ Lance and the Yo Gabba Gabba gang tell us, keep trying. Don't give up; never give up.

Friday, June 25, 2010

From Drought to Flood

So now I belong to three playgroups, and my calendar is full. Thumper and I go to play dates and there are people there whose names I know! And whose kids' names I know! I can entice him to go out the door with me sans screaming fit by telling him, "[Insert name of older kid he admires] will be there!"

And dangit, wouldn't you know, my dads' group, who show up to nearly nothing and communicate almost not at all, like they're a bunch of do-it-yourself loner males or something, suddenly planned an outing! A spontaneous outing that sounded like a lot of fun! This morning, they went to McKinney Falls State Park to fish and swim and hike and grill and bike and play horseshoes and throw footballs and have all manner of excellent outdoor fun. The old guard dads were even going to show up in numbers, the ones who were the original members and haven't come to anything since their kids entered school.

I was kind of baffled by this. Last week, Thumper and I suggested a morning swimming in the lake, followed by a picnic lunch. One other dad wanted to come; the idea was met by deafening silence by everyone else. So we went, and we had a great time. The other dad brought his canoe. His little girl is just a month older than Thumper, and the four of us had a fabulous time.

So why do I find it annoying that the dads' group finally planned an outing, and a spectacular one at that? Because I'd already RSVP'd to the first play date of the brand new playgroup, the third to which I now belong. I didn't want to make a bad impression and back out. And it was fun. We went to the sprinkler park. Thumper has gotten over his fear of lifeguards, and has been having a blast at the pools the last few weeks. And he even got wet at the sprinkler park today. He didn't get upset when he got sprayed or splashed by other kids, either. It's a great relief to know we won't be the only two idiots frying on the untouchably hot playgrounds this summer while everybody else keeps cool in the pool.

So we did the same-old, same-old while the dads all had grand fun without us. Stupid dads' group...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Belated

Once again, I forgot to acknowledge my blog's birthday this year (May 11). I've spent my free time the past couple of days reading through my 2007 posts, which is a remarkably narcissistic way to spend one's time, but still enlightening. I remembered many of those posts, but hadn't realized how early and close together they'd appeared. I wrote with much verbosity and frequency when I was still working full-time, spending 9 hours in front of a computer and doing surprisingly little work.

I'm also posting less because, well, I've said already, and repeatedly, much of what I'm thinking about these days. A graph of the number of posts per month over the last three years looks sort of like the EKG of a dying patient. I've mentioned that "He makes me laugh all the time, and he makes me frustrated all the time, and I'm not sure why I didn't know it would be like this," and that's pretty much my theme these days. I even start to bore myself when I talk about how wonderful Thumper is, and I'm not really interested in turning this blog into a place where I complain about the difficulties and frustrations that are a built-in part of raising a kid. And since I do this kid wranglin' thing full time, that doesn't leave me with much more to talk about.

What else was different then? I was funnier. I was livelier. I was a better performer. I think I had a voice then that I've lost. I had a more exuberant attitude about a world that I was discovering, and now I'm in a rut that doesn't inspire me as much as all those heady changes did back then. Plus, More Than a Minivan Mom and I had a falling out. She had and has a large following that bled over onto my blog when she added me to her blogroll. When we had a falling out that led to her removal from my blogroll and my removal from hers, it resulted in the loss of many readers and many commenters over here, though I suspect it had no effect on her readership over there. So sometimes I feel like I'm writing to my family and not many more than that, which still has value, but doesn't give me that intoxicating feeling of being an internet superstar.

Anyway. Those were crazy times. These are crazy times. The end.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yes, We Read the Grinch, Too, Even Though It's June

This week, in addition to trying to control my calorie intake and workout every day and just generally try to be a better person, I'm trying to remember that despite the ear infections and Terrible Twos and tantrums and the retorts of "no, I'm just tryin' to do this" when I tell him to stop doing something and the several thousand times a day that I say, "Come on. Come on. Come on. Come on." and the throwing of toys and the bashing of various household objects with his officially licensed Texas Longhorns baseball bat, that doing this job really is fun and exactly what I wanted for my life.

Wow, that was a really long sentence.

Tonight, as I was reading him his bedtime books, I thought about what a strange and wonderful experience it is watching him turn into a real person. Anyone who sees my Facebook status updates knows I talk about him a lot, and post ad nauseum all the funny things he says and does as we go about our daily routine. He gets a lot of attention wherever we go. Just as a fer instance, we went jogging Saturday morning, and as we passed the tennis courts, he pointed and yelled, "I want to watch tennis!" So we paused and sat on the little bleachers with a couple of moms who were watching their kids receive tennis lessons. He had an entire conversation with one of the moms, completely independent of me, asking her name, pointing out what a funny name "Dixie" is, telling her his name and age, discussing the hummingbird on her shirt and what exactly a hummingbird is, telling her about his recent haircut and the birthday party he'd be going to later. She told him he didn't get a hair cut, he got 'em all cut, then snorted out a laugh and apologetically told me her humor was about at a two-year-old level. He told her Daddy cut his hair, and she said she bet I'd done it with clippers rather than scissors because that was a lot of ground to cover over his big ol' brain.

When the tennis lesson was over, and Thumper ran out onto the court to help the kids pick up balls and rackets, The mom asked me if he was really two, which we get a lot. She repeatedly marveled at how smart he was and how well he spoke, which we also get a lot. As often as I report encounters like this, and how often I'm reminded of how special he is and how lucky we are, it's still easy to forget and get bogged down in the challenges, the less pleasant aspects of taking care of him day after day.

So that's what I was thinking about while I read him his books. Because I've read all of those books so many times, I began changing We're Going on a Bear Hunt up a bit to amuse myself. I sang the first two sentences; he turned and gave me the Upraised Finger of Discipline, that I apparently use on him, though I'm not aware when I do it, and said, calmly, "No, you don't sing it. You just read it." I began reading from where I left off, and he said, "No, you missed some words." So I started over. Then I began changing some of the words. I turned the thick, oozy mud into thin, squeaky mud. I turned the whirling, swirling snowstorm into stinking, creeping smog cloud. At each point that I wandered from the printed text, he patiently brought me back, explaining that it wasn't woods, it was a forest, it wasn't a squeaky, wooden door, it was a narrow, gloomy cave.

And my heart grew three sizes that day, swelling with love for this remarkable, adorable, maddening kid who knows much more than he should, and who is, after all, only two, and is exactly where he should be, doing what he should be doing, just as I am.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Comfortable in my Manhood, Except at a Shower

Now that I'm cheating on my dads' group with a neighborhood playgroup that's comprised almost entirely of moms (excepting one other dad that I haven't yet met because he hasn't showed up to anything), it's becoming apparent that gender is not quite as inconsequential as I might have thought. Being the self-confident and progressive male that I am, and having often been the only dad on the playground these past nearly-three years, I thought joining a moms' group would be no big deal. And mostly it is, but now and again it does make for some awkward moments.

I finally got a reply from the first moms' group I tried to join, one that actually has the word "Moms" in its name. Six weeks or so after I requested membership at the suggestion of a couple of the group's members, one of the administrators of the group replied at last and said, "no, thanks, sorry, but we decided a long time ago that we would be moms-only so that none of our members would be made uncomfortable by the presence of men, but best of luck to you and if you'd like tips on starting your own group, I'm happy to help." By then I'd already joined the small, local playgroup, so I felt only mildly annoyed by this reply and its long time in coming.

The local group is small, with a core of regular attendees whose company and children I quite like. I've had fun chatting with them while forcing Thumper to share and be nice and not hit and not throw playground gravel. For the most part, they are friendly and inclusive. We've been invited to three birthday parties already. But there are two moms that seem particularly reserved around me, despite Thumper's apparently-not-irresistible charms. Maybe they're just slow to warm to new people. Maybe it's not personal. Maybe it's not gender-related. But somehow I get the feeling that it is. I don't know. They seem more formal, more guarded, than they are with the other moms. That is, "with the moms;" not "with the other moms."

Also, I find there are conversational turns that leave me behind. At a birthday party yesterday, a pregnant mom who has been very accepting of me was sitting next to me eating birthday cake. She suddenly said, "Oh!" and put a hand to her side, then awkwardly said, "Sorry," when I smiled at her.

"The baby likes cake, huh?" I said. "Yes," she replied, then turned away from me and started a conversation with the mom next to her on the other side about breach positions and gestating babies' punches and kicks and what foods seem to inspire the most activity. It was a conversation I felt like I could have participated in, having lived with a pregnant woman whose baby was transverse breach and who shared her affinity for coffee-flavored ice cream. But body language seemed to make it clear that this was lady talk, and the door was closed. Ah, well.

This morning, I got an email that this same mom sent to the group, asking for mailing addresses of all the members interested in attending the baby shower her mother is throwing for her. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I am, in thinking that traditionally baby showers are strictly for the females. I was reminded of Aerie's wedding shower. Her family surprised her with it by getting us to come to her aunt's house for I think a cousin's birthday party or something like that. When we got there, and it turned out to be a shower, my future brother-in-law earned my eternal gratitude, rescuing me from having to sit through a parade of housewares, home d├ęcor, and lingerie by taking me out to drink beer and shoot pool, a manly inoculation against such girly pursuits. So receiving an invitation to attend a baby shower at which I presumably would make the other attendees feel as awkward as I would feel myself, I quickly, and I hope politely, declined.

So, yeah, being part of a moms' group is mostly good and sometimes weird. At least they show up to play dates regularly, though.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Back in the Swim

Ever since last summer's lifeguard debacle, I've been hoping that he'd forget all about it over the winter. We were careful not to use the L word around him. But every time we went to the playground that's next to the neighborhood pool, he would say, "Nope! No lifeguards today!" He was determined never to forget.

So when school finally ended and the pools all opened up again, I thought the perfect way to help him get over his fear was to make a special occasion out of it. We didn't just go to the pool, we took Freckles and Robert McGee to Volente Beach. It has a 1-foot kiddie pool with a pirate ship in it! It has a bigger pool with frog slide! It has a lakeside beach! And best of all, it would have Freckles and Robert McGee, two of his all-time favorite people in the world!

That morning, as I was dressing him, I told him we were going to pick up his cousins.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"To Volente Beach."

"What's Volente Beach?"

"A waterpark."

"What's a waterpark?"

"It's a place that has water slides, and a pirate ship, and pools, and ice cream, and hamburgers and hot dogs, and Freckles and Robert McGee will be there!"

"Does it have lifeguards?"

"Yes."

"Ahhh!!! I don't want to go there!"

But I told him we had to, because we promised the cousins we would. When we picked them up, Robert McGee had swim goggles that fascinated Thumper. I asked him if he needed swim goggles, too, and of course you know that he did. So we stopped on the way to buy him some. And suddenly he was excited again.

At first my hopes were a little dashed because he had no interest in either pool, even with a pirate ship, even with two fabulous cousins. He saw the lifeguards, and was wary, but he didn't panic. He just didn't really want to play in the water. So we took him down to the beach. There were lifeguards there, too, but I told him with his swim goggles we could look for rocks and shells and look for fish swimming in the lake. So in he went, and he had a blast. He bounced, he danced, he sang, he played. He even waved to a lifeguard. He had so much fun, that he didn't want to get out, though we promised him ice cream. Thumper never turns down ice cream!

Since it was such a success, I thought I'd best strike while the iron was hot and get him quick to the scene of the original trauma. I told him we were going to the pool, and he was fine with that. Until we got there. As soon as he saw it, he said, "The pool's closed! No lifeguards today!" I told him it wasn't closed, and he started crying. "I don't want to go in there!"

But I persisted, and we went in. I changed him into his trunks and doused him with sunscreen, and he cried the whole time. Then I pulled out a squirt gun. He brightened immediately.

"I want that!" he said. I gave it to him. "I want water in that!" he said.

"OK, the water's in the pool. Let's go get some." And we did. And he immediately began having fun. It took about 10 minutes to get from sitting on a deck chair with his face in his hands sobbing to standing in chest-high water with a huge grin on his face yelling, "I'm jumping on one feets! I'm jumping on one feets! I'm jumping on one toe!" We were there for two straight hours. I may have been a little premature in declaring redemption last year, but now? Maybe now?

I Almost Said Yahtzee

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Really? We're Still Calling It a Revolution?

Mike Denning asked to be a member of our Austin Stay-at-Home Dads group, and I denied him because (a)he lives a couple hundred miles away, which would kind of be an obstacle to his participation in play dates, and (b)he probably only asked to join to promote his movie. I watched the first of the 4 parts of his movie on his Facebook page, and I'm baffled by the assertion that people still treat SAHD-ing like an odd choice that breaks cultural traditions and stereotypes. I almost never encounter that kind of reaction from people I meet. Maybe I'm just oblivious to the negative reactions other dads report, but moms are almost always friendly on the playground and tell me it's great that I can do this and that I'll treasure these years for the rest of my life. Dads tell me they wish they could do it, too. And I'm not talking about just the heart of "Keep Austin Weird" Austin, where the hippies and the hipsters and the alternative lifestyles abound. I'm talking about the conservative, white, Williamson County suburbs. I'm talking about Dallas. I'm talking about outside of that bizarre liberal bubble in the middle of hardcore red-state Texas, I've never drawn stares, or disgusted looks, or insinuations that my lazy dependence on my wife will lead me straight into the fires of hell.

This is the conversation that I had with one of my ushering co-workers last weekend that is remarkable only in that it almost never takes place. When I quit my full-time job, I thought I'd be having this talk all the time, but I really don't.

"So what do you do? This isn't your only job, is it?"

"No, I have a couple of other part-time jobs, too."

"I mean, what's your full-time job?"

"Oh, I take care of my son."

Long pause. "Oh, that's cool." Another long pause. "You only have one kid?"

"Yeah, so far."

"Oh, that's cool." Long pause. "So what do you have a sugar mama or something?"

Seasoned Traveler

On Monday, Thumper and I gave Aerie a couple of nights to herself and flew to Dallas to visit my parents. It was his first airplane trip, and an experiment on my part to see if it would be easier than the three-and-a-half hour drive. When you factor in the airport experience four times, I wouldn't say it was easier, and it certainly wasn't cheaper. But it was an adventure.

He was a little nervous at the Austin airport as we checked our baggage and went through the security line. A TSA employee chatted with us while we waited, though, and Thumper began to relax a bit. He told the guy that we were going to visit Grandma and Grandpa and the Dallas Zoo, and that his favorite animal is the gorilla, who says, "RAHHRRRRRR!!!" He has been given this impression of the gorilla by the very cranky Kerchak in No Nap for Tarzan. As we discussed the impending trip over the past few weeks, he had periodically expressed some trepidation about meeting such cranky animals face to face, but I repeatedly reassured him that zoo gorillas mostly just sit and stare off into space.

Once we got through security ("Why you taking my shoes off?"), Thumper squatted by the window while we waited to board, watching them load luggage into our plane. ("Is that's our plane? Why?") Once we were aboard, he repeatedly asked, "Now are we flying? Now are we flying?" as we taxied around and waited our turn to take off. When the engines began roaring in earnest, he yelled, "What's wrong with the plane?" So if you have a fear of flying, and you were on that flight with us, I apologize. There was not, as I loudly reassured him, anything wrong with the plane.

He was excited by the takeoff, later reporting to Grandma and Grandpa that the plane went really fast, but after that he quickly reverted to boredom, though the apple juice he was served mid-flight cheered him mightily. He was also confused about where exactly Grandma and Grandpa were going to be, thinking they were at the Austin airport, then that they would be on the plane. And since they had outdated info about which terminal we'd arrive at, they weren't there while we waited for our luggage, either. But when he saw them pull up to pick us up curbside, he literally jumped for joy.

We had a lot of fun with Grandma and Grandpa, playing at their house and visiting the zoo. Grandpa cleverly left a Hoppity Ball deflated and lying casually discarded in their living room; Thumper instantly wanted to know what it was, what it was for, and what it did, so he and Grandpa went to the garage to blow it up. Here he is enjoying it while having a conversation with Grandma shortly after she suggested that maybe he not hammer on her wind chime quite so persistently:



The only reason he didn't cover his face as I took that video was that I used my iPod, which he has not yet realized is also a camera.

By the time we visited the zoo, Thumper had missed a couple of naps and had a late night in the hotel, so he was fairly subdued. Luckily, Grandma had the idea of renting a stroller, which saved the day. Thumper rode from exhibit to exhibit, then leaped out of the moving vehicle without warning Grandma, who was driving, to get a look at each animal. There were a couple of school groups there, so sometimes he had to fight for a spot at the glass:



Since he still has an aversion to having his picture taken, all of my zoo shots are of the back of his head. I could get a shot of his face if I got him while his hands were busy:



But then he'd quickly revert to his extremely strict no pictures policy:



And of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without an in-depth conversation concerning the universal need of all animals to poop and pee:



When we got home, he reported to Aerie that he saw gorillas, but that they did not, surprisingly, "RAHHRRRRRR!!!" at him. So, there. Now he's a seasoned traveler who has experienced a real zoo. I think, though, that some of his favorite moments were the afternoons we spent at the motel, resting and recuperating if not actually napping:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Conversationalist

"Hey, what are you eating?"

"A piece of gum."

"Why?"

"It makes my breath smell fresh."

"Daddy, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"It smells like mint, so when I chew it, it makes my mouth and my breath smell like mint."

"Daddy, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Friday, May 21, 2010

How We're Spending Our Days

Ever since we went to that flea market, we've been doing a lot of this:


And I mean a lot. As in every single day, for at least an hour and sometimes more. A little over a week ago, we ran into a dad at the playground at Central Market and his daughter, who was just about Thumper's age. She had a LIKEaBIKE that Thumper absolutely loved. They kindly let him give it a try while the dad told me about his three kids who were all riding two-wheel pedal bikes without training wheels after learning to balance on that unusual contraption. When I got home, I looked them up. After choking on the $400 price tag, I looked up "balance bike" on Craigslist and found a used Park Racer for a much more palatable $35. So we got it.



He loves his new "cheetah bike" and is the envy of the neighborhood kids, even the big kids who already know how to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. So now we have to drag both bikes around with us whenever we play on our street or at the playgrounds. After a week, he's getting pretty good at coasting, and can even make some long, graceful, looping turns with his feet up.

I tried to get some video, but he still refuses to let me take his picture. This is the conversation we have every time I pull the camera out:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Consent

Sometimes the mood strikes to do Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge.

This is simply idle speculation on my part, but it seems to me that sharing a bed with a writer of erotica would have its benefits. I would happily consent to be your research subject, baby. What precisely would happen, if...? Is it actually possible to fit bodies together like that? What sound, exactly, would one make? Let us study the subject together. I will vow under oath and sign before a notary consent forms and non-disclosures. I don't have to be the hero of your story as long as I can act it out with you, before and after.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Have the Dads All Become Moms?

I've been frustrated with my dads' group for a long time now because they're very inactive. There are 195 members, yet the message board is virtually silent, and when we drive all over town to go to the daily scheduled play dates, more often than not we're the only ones who show up. Of the 195 dads, over the past year I've probably only seen 7 or 8 dads at the playgrounds, and another 4 or 5 who come to the Dads' Night Out events at area bars and restaurants every month. On a good week, there will be 2 or 3 dads at one of the week's play dates, and none the rest of the week. That seems like a remarkably low participation rate to me.

So when the dad who regularly schedules the play dates went out of town and asked me to make the schedule for a couple of weeks, I tried to shake things up a bit to see if it would attract more dads. It wasn't a huge success.

A few weeks ago, when we were at yet another play date with no other dads, there was a moms' group there having a play date of their own. I got into a conversation with a couple of the moms about what the secret is to a successful play group, and their answer was, more or less, "I don't know. People come. Why wouldn't they? Isn't that what they joined the group for?" I could only hypothesize that maybe dads just don't care as much about cooperative action as moms, that we're genetically predisposed to going it alone.

Now, though, I have a new theory: we've all joined moms' groups.

A couple of those moms that talked play groups with me suggested I join their group. They said I'd be the only dad, but they didn't think it would be a problem. For a couple of weeks I let the idea simmer: me? in a moms' group? And then I came to the conclusion that I'm the only man on the playground most days anyway, so why not at least know the moms? Why not at least let Thumper play with kids he knows, too? So I requested membership. That was over a week ago, and they still haven't responded at all, so maybe they don't want any dads in their moms' group. Or maybe they're furiously debating the pros and cons. Or maybe they just forgot about me.

And then, talking with a mom down the street that we frequently run into when we go out front to ride the bike in the afternoon, I learned about a neighborhood play group she belongs to. She told me I should join and gave me the Yahoo! address. So I requested membership. They replied instantly, invited me to meet them at the local playground yesterday, and after that meetup, immediately approved my membership. We met with them again today. It's kind of amazing. I'm not driving 45 minutes to the far side of Austin just to be the only one who shows up to the scheduled play date. Instead, for two days in a row, I drove five minutes to be one of a handful of parents. Two of the moms today were also there yesterday. I knew their names. I knew their kids names. It was kind of cool.

Yesterday, before going to meet with the neighborhood group, I posted to Facebook: "Off to go audition for a moms' group. I hope the boy brings his A game." One of the dads in my old group commented, "haha, you could join the one I am in :)" And it suddenly dawned on me: the dads aren't inactive. They're just inactive in the dads' group because they're all too busy with their separate moms' groups. Dangit! If I'd only known sooner, I could've transformed into a mom a long time ago and saved myself a lot of frustration.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

That's More Than I Won on the Nickel Slots in Marksville

A week or two ago, I asked Thumper what we should get Mama for Mothers' Day. He said, "A toy."

"What kind of toy?"

"A duck."

So we went to the mall to look for a duck. We didn't find any, but we did stop by Dollar Tree to pick up some soap. Aerie likes this soap, and the only place we can find it without paying shipping is, for some reason, Dollar Tree at the mall.

All of that is just to explain how Thumper came to associate Dollar Tree with buying gifts for his Mama, which becomes pertinent right about here:

This morning, when we were driving our Meals on Wheels route, I asked him if we should go look for a present for Mama again. He enthusiastically told the next client on our route, "We're going to the dollar store to buy a present for Mama!" I asked him what we should get her, and he said, "Something breakable."

So we went to the mall today to look for something breakable. This time we found something. It is indeed breakable, but it didn't come from the dollar store. Perhaps it's a sign of insecurity, but it seems important to me to make that clear: I did not buy my wife a Mothers' Day present at the dollar store.

Anyway, after we shopped, we proceeded with our usual routine for the mall: lunch at Chick-fil-A, a quarter or two into the candy machines, and then some "playing with the kids" at Kidgitville, or whatever it is they call that playscape outside Dillard's.

There's a skylight overhead, and it was warm, and I started to doze off. So before we left, I decided to buy an energy drink out of the nearby vending machine so I wouldn't wreck the car on the way home. I put in three $1 bills and selected a $2.50 Monster. The coin return started dropping coins one after the other. I thought, "Oh great, it's giving me nickels." I looked inside and they were gold, so I thought, "Oh great, it's giving me Chuck E. Cheese tokens." When it finally stopped clinking, I pulled out the stack. Thumper said, "What are those?" and I could only answer, "I don't know." I'd never heard of them before, but they looked like legitimate U.S. $1 coins. There were twelve of them, plus three quarters. Turns out they actually are legitimate U.S. money! So near as I can tell, I'm up $9.75, plus a Monster. Today's my lucky day!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

And I Ran; I Ran So Far Away

I ran my first official 10K today! I ran the whole way, without stopping or walking! As a wheezy, gray-bearded man overweight by a good fifty pounds, this fact is still a little stunning to me.

It was the Longhorn Run, and it was a beautiful day for it, overcast and cool with no rain. It was a beautiful course, too, running all through campus and finishing in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

It was a thrilling feeling standing at the start with 2,500 other orange-clad runners (me, a runner! weird...) and hearing the University president fire the cannon to start us on our way. I tried to run at a pace that felt familiar from the few practice 10Ks I've run working my way up to today and not worry too much about what other runners were doing. My biggest worry was that my practice route was fairly flat, and I didn't know how much up and down I'd have to do on this course.

I loved being part of an event that was big enough to shut down traffic. We meandered through tree-lined West Campus, where a volunteer stood next to sign that told us we had just passed 1,589 yards, the total rushing yards Colt McCoy ran for during his career at UT. There were also signs marking the 3-mile and 6-mile points, but I was glad that there weren't more regular landmarks; it freed me from worrying about how much distance was left and made it easier to just run and forget about comparing my performance with previous runs. I just ran at a pace that felt good.

And I was passing people! And I kept running when other people stopped to walk!

I had pretty much zoned out by the time we made the turn from San Jacinto onto 24th, but I heard the runner next to me say, "Oh, shit." I looked up the hill toward Speedway and remembered getting out of breath carrying Thumper up that same hill on the way to an ill-fated business meeting a few months ago. But I told myself to just keep moving, and I did. And I didn't die!

When we turned from Speedway onto 21st, we were looking down the hill at the southwest corner of the stadium. My heart leaped, knowing that we would enter the stadium at the southwest corner to finish. I wanted to sprint down that hill, but I thought there might be some stairs to run up to get us to field level, so I kept my pace. I'm glad I did, because part way down the hill, it became apparent that runners were turning left at the bottom, not right. We would enter at the southwest, but we would have to run a lap around the stadium first.

It was a good thing I didn't take that sprint after all, because the hardest part of the course was just ahead. Turning from San Jacinto onto 23rd, we were looking up the steepest hill on the course. Appropriately, its apex was at Robert Dedman. I imagined course planners chuckling at the irony of the name. Many people walked up that hill, and many walked after that hill, but again, I told myself to just keep moving. And I did. And I didn't die!

At that point, runners who'd already finished had come back down the course to cheer us on. "You can do it! Looking good! That was the last hill; you're almost there!" I felt great. I couldn't wait to run through the tunnel at the south end and burst out beneath the scoreboard, crossing the finish line and stepping out onto the field to the joyful cheers of friends, family, and my fellow runners. I pictured it something like this, with smoke and music and video montage and all (jump to around 2:10 if you're the impatient sort).

But no, it wasn't quite like that. We crossed the finish line at the entrance to the tunnel, then sort of just dribbled out onto the field, where we were directed up and out again to where water, fruit, and a live band awaited us. I thought the post-race festivities would be happening on the field, but I suppose I can understand their desire to protect their million-dollar grass and hustle us away from it as soon as possible. I also didn't wear a watch. I looked at the scoreboard to see if the official race time would be ticking along up there, but alas, it wasn't. And I didn't have the presence of mind to ask anybody what time it was, so I don't know how I did relative to my previous personal best of 1:09. We ran with microchips on our shoes, though, which we turned in at the end of the race, so hopefully results will be posted online somewhere.

Then I came home, ate a lunch lovingly prepared by my wife, and played Play Doh with Thumper. The End.



UPDATE! I finished in 1:01:44! Woo hoo!
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